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Reynolds Ranch wins 3-2 approval

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Posted: Wednesday, August 30, 2006 10:00 pm

Reynolds Ranch was approved in a 3-2 vote Wednesday night after more than five hours of discussion by the Lodi City Council.

In each of five matters of business - approving the final Environmental Impact Report, making a general plan amendment to include Reynolds Ranch, accepting the development agreement between the city and San Joaquin Valley Development, annexing the land the project will be built upon and rezoning the area for development - both Mayor Susan Hitchcock and Councilwoman JoAnne Mounce voted to deny approval.

Hitchcock had some points of contention with the plan, in particular with the housing density proposals because she said it broke from the general plan guidelines of 65 percent low-density housing, 10 percent medium-density and 25 percent high density.

"When the general plan was formed these were figures the public embraced," Hithcock said. "I realize we can amend the general plan but with this proposal we're wholesaling it."

In the proposal, the low-density housing figure was lowered from 65 percent to 11 percent, however the plan still fulfills the second part of the guideline of only 7 housing units per acre.

Mounce, meanwhile, was concerned that development fees would not be used to enhance the Eastside and downtown as proposed, but instead go to other projects already waiting for funding.

Several members of the public also spoke at the meeting, including a number of employees from Blue Shield of California - a major stakeholder in the project.

While Blue Shield employees were united in their opinion on Reynolds Ranch, farmers were divided about whether the project should be approved.

The Lodi City Council had still made no decision by midnight, after a more than five-hour meeting had been under way.

One after one, Blue Shield employees stood and echoed the mantra, "We need our jobs," in response to comments made earlier in the meeting by Hitchcock.

Meanwhile, farmers in the audience stood carrying signs that read, "If you fed your child today hug a farmer," and "Save the family farm."

Rosemary Atkinson, a representative of Campaign for Common Ground, made the trip from Stockton to voice her opinion about the project.

Next step

The annexation proposal for Reynolds Ranch must now be reviewed by the Local Agency Formation Commission, which has been established to discourage urban sprawl, preserve agricultural land and encourage orderly development.
LAFCO will hold a special meeting on Sept. 22 at 10 a.m. to vote whether to approve the project, but must first decide whether the plan demonstrates an ability to provide municipal services, meets LAFCO guidelines and is a logical annexation.
Source: Bruce Baracco, LAFCO executive officer.

"For years Lodi has been concerned about Stockton deciding to make a move north into the city and has supported a greenbelt," she said. "So I'm surprised and sad to see that Lodi is now making the first move out of city boundaries."

Others who said they disapproved of the project upon arrival, like Mike Manna, owner of Manna Farms and member of the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission, said they had changed their minds during the course of the meeting.

An effort by the San Joaquin Land Company, the developers behind Reynolds Ranch, to include agricultural buffers in the project plans was largely responsible for the change of perspective, Manna said.

"As soon as I heard about this project I told myself 'That's not gonna fly,'" Manna said, "But I've come to agree with the project because of the buffer zones discussed. If more projects were thought out in this way I don't think you'd see so much resistance from farmers."

Reynolds Ranch consists of 1,084 homes of various densities, 350,000 square feet of commercial space on 40 acres, public areas and buildings, and a 20-acre office complex for Blue Shield.

The health insurer, whose participation is key to the success of the project, employs about 600 people in three locations in Lodi and has plans to add hundreds of new jobs at the new location.

The adoption and development agreement, which includes developer investments in other parts of the community like the Eastside, downtown and a one to one agricultural mitigation area, was also approved by Citizens for Open Government. The group mounted an unsuccessful lawsuit against the Wal-Mart Supercenter proposal and sought to include agricultural mitigation in the Reynolds Ranch project to avoid another court battle.

The approval by City Council means the project will now move to the Local Agency Formation Commission for approval of the annexation proposal. LAFCO will meet Sept. 22 to discuss the merits of the plan.

Contact reporter Rebecca Adler at rebeccaa@lodinews.com.

First published: Thursday, August 31, 2006

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